PASIC 2015 Recap!

Wow what a week in San Antonio! I always have a blast at PASIC and this year was no different. Sadly I was not able to clone myself and did not attend every event and class I wanted. It can get quite overwhelming at times and of course I wanted to check out the exhibition floor and catch up with some many friends I don’t get to see often.

Here is a quick recap of some of the highlights for me.

The Symphonic Committee is working on some new ideas for the Mock Audition and Symphonic Labs so keep your eyes peeled for those in the coming year.

Brian Del Signore – Preparation for Snare Drum Perfection

In a brief introduction Brian touched on a lot of really important topics to play snare drum at the highest level including focusing on playing soft, improving your weak hand, importance of recording yourself, and unique ways of using the metronome. All good things for any aspiring percussionist to work on.


First I want to thank Michael Metz, Sam Crowley, and Aaron Covey for playing! They all played very well in a very intimidating environment! I think the concept of working on preparing an audition solo for an audition was received very well and all three left with some good new ideas! I also have to thank Malletech for providing such a great instrument and Leigh Stevens for teching the instrument beforehand! Couldn’t imagine having a better marimba tech than that!!

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Symphonic Panel Discussion

There were a whole lot of Symphonic activities on Thursday! This was sandwiched right in between the Mock Audition and Rob’s class. The panel was moderated by Phil O’banion and included Brian Del Signore (Houston Symphony), Richard Kvistad (San Francisco Opera), Sam Bacco (Nashville Symphony), Richard Weiner (Cleveland Orchestra), and myself. There was some great discussion on the differences between how we lead our sections, which I very much enjoyed. However, we all agreed on a lot of aspects of our job that are paramount. Mostly that we need to put players in the best position to play well and that doesn’t always mean that we (the principal) plays the typical principal part. It was also nice to hear others say that it is our job to stand up for and have our section’s back when tension between conductor and section escalates. Not that that every happens….

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Rob Knopper

Rob gave a great class on how to self record and learn from this recording process. It wasn’t just about gear, it was more about the process of how to analyze the recording and how to improve from it. He made some good points about eliminating multi-tasking so that you can focus on one part of the process at a time. Normally we are playing and listening and analyzing all at the same time. That’s very inefficient! A great point he made was that in traditional practice you are only fixing the first problem you notice. When you self record, you can see and hear the most important problem first rather than just the one you happen to notice first.

Then he brought myself as well as Sarah Gartin, and Jean-Baptiste Leclere on stage. We separated the recording process into 3 aspects. I was the player. Sarah was the analyzer. And JB came up with the solutions to fix the issues. This was quite fun, especially since Rob decided to surprise me with some rep I wasn’t expecting to have to play…

PASIC All-Star Percussion Ensemble

I must say I am pretty out of the loop when it comes to percussion ensemble rep right now as I just don’t get a chance to play it or hear it very often. This concert programmed by my old teacher Michael Burritt was a real breath of fresh air. It was programmed extremely well and the college students played at an extremely high level. I enjoyed it thoroughly.

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Jean-Baptiste Leclere

I was immediately impressed with JB’s tambourine playing ability. He started with some brief history of the riq and demonstrated some pretty impressive technique and how it relates to the tambourine. He spoke briefly about how to use the head on the tambourine to your advantage. We have a tendency to forget the tambourine has a drumhead attached to it. I always try to think about how much head sound I want in my tambourine sound and JB had an interesting way to think about it. Since you are using your hand and not a stick you can think about the tambourine head like a conga head and use the same or altered techniques like a conga. Very cool idea.

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Jerry Noble

Jerry focused on commonly played repertoire that uses accessories. We have a tendency to forget about how prominent these “toy” instruments are in some standard repertoire. He also spoke about how these are typically the instruments you play when subbing for the first time with a professional orchestra. He had some great comments for the students who played and really got them to play with a lot more confidence.

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UNCG Percussion Ensemble

Eric Willie has done a great job of promoting and raising this studio to a high level. I have given several masterclasses there in recent years and the bar keeps getting raised. I was a little late for the start of this concert but really enjoyed the last 3/4 of it. The students and Eric not only played well but were extremely well rehearsed in the logistics of the stage changes. I particularly enjoyed the new mallet quartet by Michael Burritt.

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Zildjian Testing Room

This was new this year and I think will be a regular event as it was a huge success! Zildjian rented out a few conference rooms in the Hyatt hotel and had a TON of cymbals available to try and out and buy. The Zildjian Staff as well as Rob Knopper, JB Leclere, and myself were there to help potential buys pair up some cymbals. You can really get something unique when you buy cymbals this way because you can swap out a top or bottom cymbal that you don’t like and create a perfect pair. It was fun to help people find the perfect top and perfect bottom cymbal. When we found those perfect matches, people’s eyes lit up! Let’s hope Zildjian does it again next year!


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While I boarded the plane completely exhausted from the early mornings and late nights of socializing, I left San Antonio full of inspiration. I have a lot of playing coming up and the tank is on full for the practice sessions needed. I hope those that attended had a great time and a big thanks to those who came up to me and had nice things to say about my book that was released last year. It was a little overwhelming actually and meant a great deal. Thank you!

Looking forward to next year!


My PASIC picks!

I could not be more pumped to attend PASIC this year in San Antonio! There are a ton of great clinics, masterclasses, and performances to look forward to. Not mention a great city to host it! The only problem I think I’m going to have is how to replicate myself so I can attend everything I want as well as eat, sleep, and hit the exhibition hall! Let’s get to it, here are my PASIC picks!

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8:00 am – Symphonic Committee Meeting

While I am not necessarily looking forward to the hour this is being held, it is always great to see everyone and discuss ideas for next year at PASIC and ideas for PAS in general.

11:00 am – Brian Del Signore – Symphonic Lab – Snare Drum

Brian is the Principal Percussionist and Associate Principal Timpanist in the Houston Symphony Orchestra. I’ve met Brian many times at PASIC and have been impressed with his playing and general symphonic knowledge. A great guy as well! I’m looking forward to watching him coach the students.

11:00 am – Northwestern University Percussion Ensemble

There is a soft spot in my heart for my alma mater and will definitely make it over to see them play!

1:00 pm – ME!!!! William James – Symphonic Lab – Mallets!!!!!!

Do the exclamation points make you want to attend?? I am very excited for the 4 students who are going to play in this lab. I am taking a slightly different approach this year to the Lab and focusing on playing a solo at the audition rather than simply the excerpts. If you want a preview read my blog post from a couple months ago.

1:00 pm – Cory Hills

Even though I will obviously not be attending his performance, for those uninterested in what I have to say, you should check Cory out! He is great!

2:00 pm – Orchestral Mock Audition

I will probably miss a lot of this as I will be answering questions and talking about my book (The Modern Concert Snare Drum Roll) at the Meredith Music Booth, but a really important part of PASIC. Seeing the audition from both sides of the screen is something you can rarely do. And here you get to see some of the best students around play as well as some of the best pros give their thoughts on the playing. A can’t miss!

3:00 pm – Casey Cangelosi

Casey has broken out in the last few years as a premiere percussion performer, educator and composer. All I have to say is visit his YouTube page and website and you will be hooked.

4:00 pm – Symphonic Committee Panel Discussion – Principal Percussion Duties

I have been asked to sit on this panel to discuss the duties of a principal percussionist and how they differ in different orchestras and how they are similar. Plenty of time will also be spent on how students should distribute parts and act as a principal percussionist in their student ensemble. If you are interested in this topic you can download my Step By Step Guide and Checklist for Part Assignments in a recent blog post. Phil O’Banion will moderate and there will be plenty of time for questions from the audience. A great topic!

5:00 pm – Rob Knopper

Rob is presenting a class on how to record yourself. This is a topic literally every musician can benefit from. Recording yourself is the most valuable learning tool you can use outside of a lesson. You are essentially giving yourself a lesson every time you record! If you don’t know who Rob is, just check out his website and pet project Audition Hacker and you will be sold. One of the can’t miss clinics at PASIC.

6:00 pm – Zildjian Testing Room!!!!!!!!!

This is so freakin cool and I think will become a mainstay at future PASIC’s. Zildjian is renting out several rooms at the Hyatt Hotel (Specifically “Travis ABCD”) for anyone to come test and potentially purchase cymbals. The convention center floor is so loud that it is hard to hear what you are playing and it is very rare you get a chance to test out multiple options of the same cymbal. Every cymbal is unique in it’s own way and you can pair your own perfect pair right there! Myself as well as Rob Knopper, JB Leclere, and Keith Aleo will be there to help you pair your perfect pair or help you find that perfect cymbal!


9:00 am – Glenn Paulson – Cymbals Lab

After a lot of cymbals the day before at the Zildjian testing room this will be a great class on HOW to play them! Looking forward to hearing what Glenn has to say!

11:00 am – James W. Doyle – FUNdamentals – Snare Drum

James has spent a ton of time isolated how to make the most efficient stroke on snare drum. Which of course can be applied to any other instrument as well. While most of the concepts aren’t brand new, this should be a great new approach to the age old question of how to hit a drum.

11:00 am – Col Legno Showcase Concert

I have known Scott Pollard for a long time going back to my days growing up in North Carolina. His duo with his wife Amy Pollard (bassoon) is presenting this showcase concert of bassoon and percussion duo repertoire. This should be a very unique concert!

12:00 – Chris Lamb

Chris is a seasoned pro and always has such intellectual things to say about what we do in the orchestra. His class “A Model to Return to Often” should be applicable to seasoned professionals or a student just beginning to grasp the symphonic repertoire.

1:00 pm – Michael Oberaigner

Since I am an average timpanist at best, I’m very much looking forward to hearing how Michael approaches the drums and how his style differs from that of Americans. I’ve always been fascinated by how differently people can approach the same instrument and sound so good! I will be taking notes in this one.

2:00 pm – PASIC International All-Star Percussion Ensemble, direct by Michael Burritt

Michael Burritt is the premiere collegiate percussion ensemble director and it will be fascinating to see how he works with these players and what he programs. This is the first year PAS has formed this elite group and I expect a very high level concert with some adventurous programming. I know it was difficult to audition and get into this group so I imagine the concert will be fantastic.

3:00 pm – Peter Flamm – Timpani Lab

Again, since I struggle with timpani playing, I’m looking forward to hearing what Peter has to say about the roll. I’ve spent plenty of time working on my snare drum roll, but looking forward to hearing Peter school me on my timpani roll.

4:00 pm – Laurel S. Black

Laurel’s clinic is focused on health and wellness. Specifically the shoulder. I am a big fan of trying to understand how our body works, so I will be interested in hearing the research she is done and how we can be healthier musicians.

5:00 pm – JB Leclere

JB’s clinic “Accessories, Color in the Service of Dramatic Art” is one all symphonic percussionists should attend this year. We always tend to focus on snare drum and xylophone but one you start working, most of what you play are the toys.

8:30 pm – Joe Locke, Warren Wolf, Tony Miceli, and Stefon Harris

These are 4 of the best vibraphone players in the world. All on one stage. Yes there will be a lot of notes flying around up there but I can’t wait to hear how lyrical they can play. That’s the sign of a great vibe player to me. Should be a memorable concert.


9:00 am – Jerry Noble – Accessories Lab

Jerry has become a friend over the years at PASIC and I’m really looking forward to his class on accessories. He is planning on discussing some of the most commonly performed rep using the major accessory instruments. It is surprising how much rep there is for these instruments that aren’t necessarily the standard excerpts. While this may be early in the morning on Saturday, I will definitely be attending!

10:00 am – Symphonic Emeritus Section

Lead by Alan Abel, this ridiculous line up of retired legends in the symphonic world will play through some of the standard repertoire as a section. Scheduled to play are : Arnie Lang, Bill Platt, Ron Barnett, Bill Cahn, Tony Cirone, Thomas Akins, John H. Beck, Peter Kogan, Richard Weiner, Gerald Unger, and Stanley Leonard. I that pretty much sells itself…

12:00 pm – Thomas Burritt

This concert and clinic should be over the top. If you haven’t seen Tom’s new recordings of the Bach C minor Cello Suite, then you need to check it out right now. Tom has become a leading educator, especially in Texas, and I’m sure there will be a huge crowd for this!

1:00 pm – Matthew Geiger

Matthew’s Clinic is entitled: “Passing the Pre-Screening”. Can I interest any one in that topic???? This should be required attendance for all HS and college age students looking to apply to their next school!

1:00 pm – University Committee Panel Discussion – Graduate Auditions – What Every Student Should Know

Again, is this a topic I could interest anyone in? A great idea lead by Benjamin Fraley with a heavy hitting lineup of Megan Arns, Michael Burritt, and Scott Herring as panelists. They know what they are talking about for sure and I imagine there will be a lot of college juniors and seniors in the audience!!

2:00 pm – Santa Clara Vanguard Percussion Section

While my marching days are well behind me, it is always fun to see what is new and how ridiculous these kid’s chops are. I don’t miss sleeping on gym floors, but I do miss the playing! Should be an awesome performance.

3:00 pm – Anika Nilles

If you have been on social media in the last 6 months you have seen how much she has exploded and how tight her grooves are. This is the perfect environment for a showcase concert for her. Us drum geeks will eat it up.

4:00 pm – Nexus

I never grow tired of seeing Nexus. They are THE chamber group in percussion and the model for the rest of us. They are also, insanely good. I hope I sound half as good as they do at their age!


There it is! All of my picks! I can’t wait to head down to TX and see everyone, check out the exhibition hall, and have my ears pleased by awesome music. See you there!



Well, PASIC 2014 is in the books and I am exhausted, motivated, energized, and overwhelmed all at the same time. PASIC is an experience like no other and I have yet to attend a convention where I didn’t learn a massive amount. This year I was rather graciously given the week off from the Saint Louis Symphony and could attend the entire event. Here is a recap of my weekend.

Thursday started early as we had our annual Symphonic Committee Meeting at 8 am… While it was good to see old friends, it was an early start to say the least. We discussed how this year’s PASIC events were looking and looked ahead to next year. We had a great discussion about what our panel discussion should be and I think y’all will like it. Look for it next year in San Antonio! Then I was off to set up my class and get warmed up. I had spent a couple months preparing my class and had presented it a few times before PASIC, but was still nervous and anxious that my points would come across. Despite being one of the first clinics of the convention and most people not arrived yet I was thrilled with the turn out. Neil Grover had to arrive late and he said he had trouble getting through the door! I felt relatively good about the class and feel like my points came across about as well as they could. Thank you those who attended!!! It is a HUGE honor to present at PASIC!

Photo from PASIC Clinic.

Photo from PASIC Clinic.

After the class I headed to the Meredith Music booth to answer questions and meet those who had attended my class. I met several students and had some great conversations. The highlight of the entire week though was watching someone thumb through my book and when I went to introduce myself, he turned around, and it was Arnie Lang… I was stunned. We started talking and he could not have been a kinder man. Eventually, he asked me to sign a copy of my book for him. We had a great conversation about the book and snare drum playing in general. With the possible exception of receiving the first copy in the mail this was definitely the highlight of my 3 year process of writing the book. To say I was walking on air would be an understatement.

Arnie Land and Will James.

Once I came down from my high of meeting Arnie I went to an old friend’s clinic, Ed Choi. He presented a beautifully organized clinic on orchestral solutions. We encounter lots of tricky problems in the orchestra and Ed had highlighted many of them and ways to solve them. The impressive part was how he sighted the sources and how he had clearly been influenced by American orchestras, European orchestras, as well as Eastern orchestras. I was very impressed. Some of my favorite solutions were using two whips mounted on a table for Mahler, putting the tambourine on a snare drum with the snares on for Pines, using a quiro for the ratchet in Pines as well has multiple BD/cymbal attachment solutions.

After Ed’s class I headed to my room and checked in before dinner. Dinner was with some very close friends: Keith Aleo, John Tafoya, Ed Choi, Rob Knopper, Anders Astrand and his wife. This is the coolest part of PASIC, the HANG! We did a fabulous job of that as well as eating too much and laughing too much. Despite the informal vibe I couldn’t help but be inspired by my company.

I spent the morning checking out the floor of the exhibit hall before finally splitting time between Ian Wright and Kris Keeton’s classes. It was great to see Ian’s great touch on the drums with such a unique perspective after years in Royal Liverpool. While I was late to Kris’ class I caught enough to be seriously impressed. He is clearly a good teacher and was extremely organized. He discussed techniques and strategies to improve memorization. It was a nice balance between philosophical and practical advice. I have always liked Kris and it was great to see him do so well in his class. I definitely picked up a few things to work on in my own playing.

After lunch with some family who lives in Indy I headed to She-e’s class. I’ve always been impressed with She-e’s playing and really value my time studying with her. This class at PASIC was vintage She-e for anyone who knows her. The energy and passion was contagious and the audience responded big time. She has a touch on the instrument I wish I had!

Next was Phil O’Banion’s class on accessories. He had some great students (including one of my own) play and he did a great job of coaching them through the repertoire. He also had them do a lot of section playing which was a great addition to the class. We certainly should have students do more of that at PASIC.

I then ran to catch So Percussion’s concert. I’ve known these guys for a few years now and they never disappoint. They present their music in such a personal way that it is impossible not to enjoy. They are clearly very comfortable with their voice and presentation style and it comes across to the listener. We have GOT to get them to St Louis to do David Lang’s new concerto he wrote for them!

Finally, Rob Knopper closed out the day with a mallet lab. He had four very talented students play and he dropped some great bombs of knowledge for all of them. You could hear very quick improvement on what was already good! His use of technology in the class was also very effective, something I think future presenters should use when teaching in that environment.

Friday night’s dinner was fantastic as well as I got to catch up with Malletech buddies Scott Herring, Blake Tyson and my old teacher and mentor Mike Burritt. I don’t remember much of the walk to dinner as it felt like it was 10 below but despite this Blake decided to order an absurd amount of ice cream…

Will James and Malletech buddies with ice cream.

I spent most of Saturday walking the Exhibit Floor checking out the new gear. I only bought a few new pairs of mallets but got to check out lots of new products including some of the new cymbals at Zildjian they are working on. I’m always impressed with their dedication to keep innovating and coming up with new ideas. I stopped by the Meredith Music booth and found out they only had a few copies of my book left! It looked like they were going to sell out by the end of the day. Such great news and thanks to any of you who have bought a copy!

After a long day on my feet I was happy to sit down for the Third Coast Percussion Group’s afternoon feature concert. I was in school with most of them at Northwestern but I have never been in the right city at the right time to hear them play. Saturday’s concert was seriously impressive. I knew they could all play but as an ensemble they are really remarkable. They clearly love playing together and have their own voice as a group. I’m not overstating that this was the best performance of the week. They owned that concert and had the audience’s attention the entire time. I had to drive back after the concert and while I was sad to leave it was the perfect way to end the week. I could not have been more proud and inspired by their performance.

Third Coast Percussion Group's afternoon feature concert.